The Short-Lived And Easily-Forgotten Shows of The 1980s
Even CBS Wants To Forget About Manimal
The 1980s were full of TV series. With the popularity of shows like Cheers and Dynasty, some gems were short-lived, and others were easily forgotten. While some series had a great plot but no audience, others were doomed from the start.
From the solid five episode-run of Ace Crawford: Private Eye to the bad timing of Breaking Away, it’s time to strap in and take a ride down memory lane with these short-lived and easily-forgotten ’80s TV shows.
According to The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy, they’re surprised the action-adventure show Manimal ever made it past the pilot episode. Centered around a shape-shifting doctor who helps the police solve crimes, NBC wants nothing more than to forget its eight episodes ever happened.
When asked what the future of Manimal was, the network said, “nope, not on another network, not in syndication, not on home cassettes…it’s a ghost, it’s history, it’s vapor.” The show was even included in The Best of Science Fiction TV‘s list of “Worst Science Fiction Shows of All Time.” Yikes.
Ace Crawford: Private Eye Could’ve Used A Laugh Track
Tim Conway starred as Ace Crawford, a private detective who, honestly, didn’t really know what he was doing. Airing on CBS for a solid five episodes, the short-lived sitcom Ace Crawford: Private Eye did little to impress the critics and its perspective fan base.
The Sam Spade-want-to-be was lucky, to say the least, catching the bad guys in ways that should never have worked. The fact that the series attempted to be funny without a laugh track was the last nail in the coffin. Even Conway thought the show could have utilized a laugh track.
Helltown Couldn’t Compete In Its Timeslot
Father Noah “Hardstep” Rivers was a hard-hitting priest from the wrong side of the tracks. Growing up in East Los Angeles, Rivers knows all about the neighborhood gangs and narcotics dealers. Hey, he’s a reformed criminal himself! And while the plot of Helltown might sound interesting, it was met with mixed reviews and pretty low ratings when it aired on NBC in 1985.
After one season of 15 episodes, the show was canceled. The thing is, when a show is in the same timeslot as a popular series like Dynasty, studios typically expect the worst.
Automan, The Superhero That Never Should Have Happened
The 1980s show Automan had good bones, following the story of a police officer working alongside a computer programmer. The latter of which designed a hologram that was able to step out of the computer and fight crime. It’s pretty much one of the OG superhero shows.
Too bad it was short-lived. Scheduled to air in what is known by some as the 8 pm “death slot” on Monday nights, Automan wasn’t garnering the ratings it needed to warrant a second season. Not to mention production was expensive with all of the special effects. As a result, Automan was canceled after 12 of its 13 episodes aired.
Beyond Westworld Was The Westworld People Want To Forget
Before the critically acclaimed series Westworld came to HBO, CBS aired Beyond Westworld, a short-lived show based on the 1973 film Westworld. In the same wheelhouse as the modern-day series, the 80s show followed Security Chief John Moore as he attempts to stop an evil scientist from using his human androids to take over the world.
The thing is, while Westworld is dramatic and thrilling, it’s hard not to giggle while watching Beyond Westworld. While it was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards for art and makeup, the short-lived Beyond Westworld was thought to be a major flop, airing only three of five episodes.
Street Hawk, The Superhero That’s Actually A Motorcycle
Street Hawk‘s premise: ex-motorcycle cop Jesse Mach is recruited for a top-secret government mission to ride the 300mph bike known as Street Hawk. It’s fast, dangerous, and is meant to help the rider fight the biggest criminals around. Sound like the perfect amount of 80s cheese? The correct answer is yes.
Anyway, after being moved around ABC’s schedule one too many times, the series never got a strong following. In the end, ABC pulled the plug on the superhero show after airing 14 episodes.
Tucker’s Witch Didn’t Get Enough Viewership
Think Bewitched, but make the leading lady a psychic who helps her husband Rick fight crime. Starring popular actors Catherine Hicks as Amanda and Tim Matheson as Rick, CBS was sure the series was going to get off the ground.
It didn’t. Going up against NBC’s Quincy, M.E. and ABC’s Dynasty, CBS’ Tucker’s Witch never really stood a chance when it came to stealing away the popular series’ viewership. After airing six episodes, the show was put on hiatus, coming back months later to air its final six.
Wizards And Warriors…Enough Said
In the far-off world of Wizards and Warriors, two princes get into more than one conflict with one another. Using wizards, witches, and warlocks to combat one another, the good Prince Erik Greystone and Prince Dirk Blackpool fight in an epic fantasy show that ended before its time.
Unfortunately, due to low ratings and viewership, the show was canceled after eight one-hour-long episodes. But the cancelation didn’t stop the series from winning the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Costumes for a Series and being praised for its witty characters, humor, and direction.
Ratings Were Too Low For The Misfits Of Science
Before the explosion of all of the modern-day superhero shows, there was the 80s show The Misfits of Science. The show centered around a team of crime-fighting superpowered teenagers, formed by Dr. Billy Hayes. But when one of those people is “shrinking Lincoln,” it was only a matter of time before the Network pulled the plug.
In fact, it only took the double-length pilot and 15 episodes for NBC to realize ratings were going to stay very low. With one episode never aired, The Misfits of Science was canceled.
The Devlin Connection Lacked A Spark
The crime drama The Devlin Connection aired on NBC for 13 episodes in 1982, a short-lived show, to say the least. For one of the stars, Rock Hudson, the cancelation couldn’t have come sooner. According to the actor, the series wasn’t comedic, and there was no real spark in the story.
A story that did nothing more than following a former military intelligence officer and current private investigator as they solved the “mystery of the week.” The year-long production delays were one of the main reasons for the show’s early cancelation, as Hudson came out of multiple heart surgeries to a completely altered script.
Breaking Away Had Bad Timing
Wanting to capitalize off the wildly successful movie Breaking Away, ABC thought it would be a smart idea to create a prequel series of the same name, taking place one year prior to the events of the film. The fact of the matter is, the studio had the right idea.
They hired Shaun Cassidy as Dave Stohler, the young Italian bike racer, and even got John Ashton, Barbara Barrie, and Jackie Earle Haley to reprise their roles. Unfortunately, production got caught up in the 1980 Screen Actors Guild Strike. And while it was heavily promoted, the series was overlooked by viewers. Breaking Away was left airing seven of eight episodes.
The Nutt House Was Too Nutty For Many Viewers
Centered around the once-prestigious Nutt House hotel in New York City, The Nutt House wasn’t for everyone. Created by Mel Brooks, viewers were interested to see what the genius behind the series Get Smart had in store with this new show. As it turned out, nothing viewers wanted.
The single-camera visuals resulted in a narrow audience. People who could follow the quirky storyline and not mind the random and unrelated gags that would pop up in the storyline. With low ratings, The Nutt House was canceled after airing five of its ten episodes.
Blacke’s Magic Was “Mishandled” By NBC
After 13 episodes, NBC decided to cancel the short-lived crime drama Blacke’s Magic. Following the life of magician Alexander Blacke, viewers watched as he solved seemingly magical crimes based more on “how-he-do-its” rather than “who did it.” According to star Hal Linden, Blacke’s Magic was canceled because it was “mishandled” by NBC.
During an interview with the AV Club, Linden said, “there was a question of the pickup [for the back half of the season], and the reason why they didn’t was because they had one other show that had a woman as the lead, so they went for that because it was politically correct to do.”
Starting Strong, The Highwayman Went Downhill Fast
In what looks like a post-apocalyptic world, men known as the “Highwaymen” drive suited-up trucks loaded with advanced gear and technology, fighting crime in what is now seen as a dangerous world. The Highwayman pilot episode was met was positive reviews, but it didn’t lead the show to a second season.
After nine episodes, NBC canceled the action-adventure show. While the pilot pulled in great ratings, the following episodes did not. With the expensive sets, effects, and high-tech equipment, the studio couldn’t afford to keep the show afloat, so it was dropped.
Nero Wolfe Couldn’t Beat The Dukes Of Hazzard
The drama show Nero Wolfe was canceled well before its time. Centered around the title character, the show explores his detective genius as he and his partner Archie Goodwin help solve mysteries behind some of New York’s crimes. The show was well-received by critics.
Unfortunately, it was pitted against CBS’ popular series The Dukes of Hazzard and was never able to secure a steady audience. NBC even tried to save the show, moving it from Friday night to Tuesday. It didn’t matter, and the show was canceled after a short 14-episode run.
B.A.D. Cats Was Just Bad
Starring Asher Brauner, Steve Hanks, and Michelle Pfeiffer in one of her first major roles, the 1980s police drama B.A.D. Cats was, well, just bad. Following the story of two former race car drivers who get recruited for the new Burglary Auto Detail Commercial Auto Thefts division of the LAPD, the show pretty much showcases how they ride people off the road instead of questioning them first.
While ten episodes were produced, four didn’t air in the 8 pm Friday night timeslot. According to a lot of viewers on Mystery File, it’s no wonder the show was canceled, it was boring, and the car chases dragged on.
The Last Precinct Was Canceled After Two Months
Following a group of police academy rejects and misfits, The Last Precinct aired on NBC at 9 pm on Friday nights. Not the best slot, considering it was going up against the likes of Dallas on ABC. Because of that, the series never really found a steady audience. In the end, it was very short-lived.
The police sitcom aired in April of 1986, directly after Super Bowl XX. Two months later, it was canceled. Only eight episodes of The Last Precinct were aired.
Maggie Briggs Only Made It To Six Episodes
From March 4 to April 15, 1984, the short-lived sitcom Maggie Briggs aired on CBS. Starring Suzanne Pleshette as the title character, the show followed Maggie as she settles into her new position as a human interest writer at The New York Examiner.
The issue was, the show was supposedly a sitcom, and a lot of viewers didn’t find it funny. Even though Pleshette was a smashing success, bad ratings made it so the studio couldn’t move past the six episodes it aired in the first season.
Fathers And Sons Had A Surface-Level Story
The sitcom Fathers And Sons only aired four episodes, making it short-lived and, honestly, pretty much one of the more forgotten shows to come out of the 1980s. Seriously, how entertaining can a sitcom about an athletic father who coaches his non-athletic son’s baseball team actually be?
While they tried to make the series funny, there’s only so much a writer can put into a show with that surface-level storyline. In the end, NBC dropped Fathers and Sons, and former NFL player Merlin Olsen had to try his luck at acting somewhere else.
The Phoenix Was Too Much Cheese
In The Phoenix, Judson Scott starred as Bennu, an ancient alien with powers of telekinesis, levitation, and clairvoyance who was awakened from his Peruvian pyramid resting place by a team of archeologists. Yea, for the 80s, it was kind of a far-fetched concept that didn’t resonate with viewers.
That being said, the show did bring in good reviews. It just wasn’t going to take fans away from watching The Dukes of Hazzard, The Phoenix‘s competition in the Friday night 9 pm timeslot. As a result, the show was canceled after airing five episodes of one season.